By:  Roberta L. Wertenberg, Coordinator

Fifth District C.A.R.E. Program


 We think of law enforcement, the fire department, or medical services as being the first responders following a natural disaster.  The reality may be that the quickest response following a disaster may actually come from the scam artists!

 Knowing that victims of natural disasters require contracting and insurance estimates, the fraudsters appear early on the scene, offering low cost services to people desperate to rebuild.  Common scams involve people going door to door, offering low cost estimates involving left over materials.  It is wise to be suspicious of anyone offering services that sound too good to be true.

 Another common scam starts with the appearance of workers who show up and offer to remove debris.  A large, preferably cash deposit is requested.  Once the payment is received, the scam artist dumps the debris a short distance away, or he disappears entirely.  Watch out!  You may be responsible for costs or penalties associated with their actions.

 Be on the safe side.  Do not respond to or contact anyone before speaking with your insurance adjuster.  Keep a log of who you spoke with, documenting the date and time of your call.  Try to work out any disputes directly with your insurance company.  The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is available to help policyholders deal with insurance disputes at (800) 927-HELP (4397) or at www.insurance.ca.gov

 Don’t be rushed into the purchase of materials or goods.  Take the time to read all contracts and verify the license of any contractor.  Know that it is a violation of the Business and Professionals Code for any unlicensed contractor of handyman to bid a job for over $500.00, including labor and materials.  To check the contractor’s license number call (800) 321-2752 or www.cslb.ca.gov 

As disaster victims, some services may be available to you free of charge, or at a reduced rate.  Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA may offer assistance for rental payments for temporary housing, low interest loans for residential and business losses not fully covered by insurance, grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items and personal property not covered by insurance, grants for medical costs, funeral expenses, transportation, and other disaster-related needs, unemployment benefits for workers who temporarily lose jobs and don’t qualify for state benefits, crisis counseling, income tax assistance and small business loans. 

If you are filing an insurance claim, be suspicious of workers offering to help assist in the filling of insurance claims.  These people gain access to your Social Security number and other sensitive personal information.  They may file illegal claims against your homeowner’s insurance or, otherwise, use the information to commit identify theft.

 To reduce the possibility of mail fraud, arrange for a temporary postal box or utilize a locked mailbox with a slot.  Be alert for government look-alike mail, fraudulent charity fraud appeals, unsolicited merchandise, and offers for free inspections.  If you believe that you might have been the victim of mail fraud, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at (626) 405-1200 or http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors

Fraudsters can be creative and resourceful.  Avoid becoming a victim by working with your insurance company, obtaining references and licensing information, obtaining competitive bids and making sure everything is in writing.  In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Learn from the mistakes of others.  You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself!”



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